Washington, 22 April 1999 (RFE/RL) - A group of U.S. Senators this week introduced a resolution that would authorize President Bill Clinton to use "all necessary means" for the United States and its NATO allies to win the war in Yugoslavia.
The resolution, offered on the eve of NATO's 50th anniversary summit in Washington, came from across the political spectrum. Its sponsors included Democratic and Republican lawmakers. Their ideologies bridged the American political scene -- liberal, centrist and conservative.
The senators say they united in one purpose: America and its NATO partners could not afford to lose a test of will against Yugoslavia and its president, Slobodan Milosevic. They say the alliance's credibility would be undermined if Milosevic was allowed to permanently displace hundreds of thousands of ethnic Albanians from Serbia's Kosovo province, killing and brutalizing innocent civilians in the process.
The resolution says President Clinton "is authorized to use all necessary force and other means, in concert with United States allies, to accomplish U.S. and NATO objectives in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia."
Clinton has defined these objectives as the withdrawal of Serb troops from Kosovo, the return of refugees to their homes, the stationing of an international peacekeeping force in Kosovo and autonomy for the province.
One of the sponsors of the resolution is Arizona Republican John McCain, a former Navy pilot who spent more than five years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. He is one of the leading advocates in the Senate for keeping the option open for introducing ground troops against Yugoslavia.
Clinton and the other NATO leaders have so far ruled out the use of ground troops in the conflict.
McCain says NATO must find "the courage and resolve to prosecute this war in the manner most likely to result in its early and successful conclusion."
Mindful of the alliance's history and half-century mission, Republican Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana says that the conflict in Kosovo is a stark reminder the threats to security of NATO's members still exist.
Lugar -- a co-sponsor of the Senate resolution - says that the revolutions of 1989 not only led to the collapse of communism but also ended the political and military orders established after two world wars.
Says Lugar: "What is at stake today is order and stability in Europe as a whole, and that is why American interests are involved."
At a U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing this week, Republican Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina said when America is at war, its leaders must measure their words carefully.
Helms, chairman of the panel, is not among the sponsors of the Senate resolution but he is considered an advocate of strong U.S. military power.
The North Carolina senator said he never criticized his country during World War II or Korea or Vietnam or Desert Storm, and he is not going to do it either on Kosovo. He said this is no time for political grandstanding.
Helms said: "So we meet today in the gravest of circumstances. Our nation is, in fact, at war, whether we call it that or not, against a cruel and ruthless and determined enemy. There will be time later on to examine in detail opportunities, if any, that the United States missed that might have spared us from an extended and violent nightmare of destruction, suffering and questionable episodes of bad judgment."
The senator said he is horrified that at the end of the 20th century the world is witnessing a display of "incredible inhumanity." He said more than a million Kosovar Albanians have been forced to flee their homes as a result Milosevic's policies.
Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was among the co-sponsors of the Senate resolution. He said at the Foreign Relations Committee hearing that the Balkan crisis cannot be ultimately resolved unless Milosevic leaves the political scene.
Biden said: "As long as Milosevic is there, it is going to be near impossible to achieve that, and there is going to be a lot of destabilization in the region."
The senator said considering sending in the troops to Kosovo is not merely a presidential decision. Under the U.S. Constitution, it is the responsibility of the Senate to give its consent and advise to the president on matters of foreign policy.
Doug Bandow, a senior fellow at Cato Institute, a Washington-based non-government think tank, says NATO is fighting the wrong war in Yugoslavia. Bandow says: "NATO has demonstrated that it is incapable of maintaining peace in a historically unstable and strategically unimportant periphery of Europe. This was never a sensible goal: the causes of ethnic fratricide run deep and decisions to kill, maim and displace one's neighbors are rarely rational."
Michael Brown, an expert of U.S. national security policies who is affiliated with Georgetown University in Washington, says it was natural that NATO would change in some respects when Soviet power crumbled.
Brown argues , however, that adding to NATO's lists of activities such as the Kosovo conflict will make the alliance less durable. He says if the alliance becomes preoccupied with activities unrelated to its vital interests, the political and economic toll of such operations -- if undertaken -- will be high as will be the failure rate.
Brown says this could undermine NATO's credibility and make the alliance's ultimate demise more likely.
But Democratic congressman Tom Lantos of California, who was born in Hungary and is a Holocaust survivor with a keen sense of history, disagrees.
Lantos told Secretary of State Madeleine Albright at a congressional hearing Wednesday:
"When the dust settles and the history books will be devoting pages to this moment in history, I am convinced that these days will go down as NATO's finest hour, and for you personally your finest hour. It takes some historical perspective to recognize what a phenomenal development it is to see Hitler's first victims -- the Czech Republic, Poland, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium -- line up with the newly democratic Germany to oppose totalitarian dictatorship and the most preposterous violation of human rights, including mass murder, perpetrated by Milosevic."